The Fabulous 00s: The Resurgence of the 1890s

Behold, Once Again, the Two Knights

GM Nakamura scored a key win over GM Friedel in the last round of the US Championship 2009 with a two knights sideline opening fresh from the 1890s.  Curiously, GM Friedel in his notes in Chess Life Online did not mention the most active way to play.  He played a “safe” “solid” way but that way was passive, white kept an extra pawn, and won easily. Maybe he hasn’t looked it up yet!  Postscript Sunday June 28: I am not sure what’s in the water, but now the game has appeared in print annotated by both parties, and in neither case black’s best 8th move was mentioned.  Presumably the annotators have had time to reflect and present the readers with the right move, so I don’t know what’s going on.

Here is how the key game started.

Nakamura-Friedel US Championship 2009

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 There is a school of thought that, for safety’s sake, or even more precisely, for logic’s sake,  follow what Karpov does.  GM Short told me that if GM Karpov plays 3…Bc5 here, it is likely to be best.  Logical!  Logic in the opening by proxy!  But when Karpov starts dancing with his king on f8 in Caro’s, well, watch out.

4. Ng5 d5 5. exd5 Na5 Known to be bad is 5…Nxd5? 6. d4!.  Not so clear is the schoolboy favorite, 6. Nxf7, the Fried Liver Attack.  I think d4! first then taking on f7 is the way theory recommends.

6. Bb5+ c6 7. dxc6 bxc6 Black has a sidelined knight on a5 and a pawn minus, but a lead in development and prospects for gaining more time by hitting the knight on g5. This position has been seen a lot, and white’s next is no novelty at all.

8. Bd3 Not new at all. In fact, quite old.  And also played in a major league game in 2008.  Both old and new!   A double-headed monster that needs to be … well….. looked at.  GM Short told me that he faced this in blitz vs GM Morozevich, “reaching a good game but then losing.”  In a curious “double”, Nakamura once scored easily with 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 e6 3. e4 d5 4. e5 d4 5. exf6 dxc3 6. bxc3 Qxf6 7. Bd3!? vs an Argentinian GM and ex-world junior champion Pablo Zarnicki, HB Global Challenge Minnesota 2005. At this point Friedel writes in CLO, “I vaguely recalled it, but of course had no clue what to do.  I  decided to go  “solid” again with Be7 and 0-0.  Better might have been an earlier h6 followed by Nd5 and f5-e4 with counterplay.”  Needless to say, 8…Be7? was a huge lemon and Nakamura had no trouble whatsoever scoring the full point in short order.  Although on ICC there were some funny moments when GM Kraai (perhaps inebriated, that would be my guess) started scream/kibitzing after Friedel’s unsound sac on d3 that “the panda’s junk was all over the board”  – it took quite a bit of deduction to figure out he was referring to Friedel as the Panda.  Nevertheless, the junk (I think) stayed back in its package as Nakamura just pocketed the material and then trapped the queen. The most ‘objectionable’ thing is that Chess Life Online readers come away with nothing at this key juncture.  But it’s more or less free… the peanuts and monkeys syndrome?

Instead of solid, we need fast!  More precisely, there’s a faster way for black to ‘get there’ in Friedel’s counterplay notion.  Better is what Emanuel Lasker found in 1892 versus Henry Bird!  (And repeated in recent memory by Erwin L’Ami).  The right move is 8…Ng4! When facing something strange, do something “strange” – but the move is really quite logical!

Postscript Sunday June 28: I received New in Chess magazine 2009/4 in the mail (late, I know; I go with the chessplayer’s stingy surface mail option) – and I was very surprised to see Nakamura annotate this game and pass by 8…Be7 without comment. His secrets after 8…Ng4 go unmentioned. On purpose?  The readers come away with absolutely no information.

This is the way to get the Panda's Junk on the Board

This is the way to get the Panda's Junk on the Board

Bird-Lasker Newcastle-on-Tyne 1892 (have you heard of that event??!) saw 8…Ng4 9. Nf3 f5! The correct followup. After 10. h3 e4! we had true chaos on board, and Lasker outplayed Bird subsequently. But let’s not trust a game from 1892.  We need to look at this try more carefully. The most interesting recent game, between two young Dutch lions, saw in

Stellwagen-L’Ami, Maastricht 2008, 8…Ng4! 9. Ne4!? f5! Always this!  Black needs this.  10. Be2 h5! with absolute chaos once again! 11. h3 fxe4 12. hxg4 Bc5! with madness and a definite black initiative.  The kind one is supposed to get with the …Na5 gambit! I am pretty sure Friedel might have looked this up by now.  Or maybe not?  Anyway it looks like 8…Ng4 is the way to go, and I look forward to Nakamura being challenged with this!  (but maybe he’ll switch away now that the surprise is gone).  In the meantime, can readers switch on their collective Rybkas and give me best play and evaluation after this?  Merci et adieu.

A Weird “Double”

From the Copper State International, Altounian-Barcenilla (copied from Chess Life Online, annotations by GM Alex Yermolinsky unless italicized by MG)

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5

This old line, known as the Fried Liver Attack, is making an unexpected comeback these days. I faced it against David Pruess in 2007, and there was a recent Nakamura-Friedel U.S. Championship game. I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, modern computer analysis can re-evaluate some positions from the defensive point of view. On the other hand, it’s hard to believe that generations of chess players were wrong in their assessment of resulting positions as good for Black

4…d5 5.exd5 Nd4

Altounian was quite surprised by this little known sideline. 5…Na5 6.Bb5+ c6 7.dxc6 bxc6 and the old move 8.Be2 is being superseded by(8.Qf3 Pruess; or 8.Bd3 Nakamura.)

6.c3 b5 7.Bd3!? Shadows of Hikaru… 7.Bf1 Nxd5 transposes to well-known theoretical lines, such as 8.Ne4 Ne6 9.Bxb5+ Bd7 10.Bxd7+ Qxd7; Another chapter is 7.cxd4 bxc4 and now either 8.Qa4+ (or 8.dxe5 Qxd5 9.exf6 Qxg5 10.Qf3 Rb8) 8…Qd7 9.Qxc4 Qxd5 In both cases, the computer gives White a big plus for whatever that’s worth.

7…Nxd5 The alternative 7…Bf5 was seen in Morozevich-Timman, 1996 where after 8.Bxf5 Nxf5 9.Qf3 Nh4 (9…g6!?) 10.Qh3 Ng6? the young Alexander missed the crushing shot (better was 10…Nxd5 11.Qxh4 Be7 12.d4 Nf4 13.Bxf4 exf4 with some play for a pawn; but not 10…Qxd5 11.Qxh4 Qxg2 12.Rf1 h6 13.d3 and White keeps the extra piece.) 11.Nxf7 and instead went on to lose the game.

8.Nxf7 8.cxd4 Qxg5 9.Bxb5+ Kd8 10.Qf3 is another transposition to the 7.Bf1 theoretical line.

8…Kxf7 9.cxd4 Nf4 Should further analysis prove White’s advantage in the way the game went, it might be worth looking at the crazy line 9…Nf6 10.Bxb5 exd4!? (I don’t think Black has anything going after 10…Qxd4 11.Nc3 Bc5 12.Qe2 Be6 13.d3) 11.Bc4+ Kg6 12.0-0 Bd6 13.Qc2+ Bf5 14.Bd3 Qd7 and the hyperactive black king may turn out to be a real asset in the endgame. 10.Be4after10.be4barcalt.jpg


Barcenilla must get credit for energetic play. Weaker was 10…Rb8 11.dxe5 Nd3+ 12.Kf1 and Black cannot maintain the knight on d3 because of the exposed position of his own king (checks from b3, f3 or h5 are coming).

11.d3 White was not advised to take the gift, 11.Bxa8? Nd3+ 12.Ke2 Bg4+ 13.Bf3 (13.f3 Nf4+ 14.Ke1 Nxg2+ 15.Ke2 Nf4+ 16.Ke1 Be7 bringing more pieces into the fray.) 13…Nf4+ 14.Kf1 Bxf3 15.Qxf3 Qc4+ 16.Ke1 Qxc1+ 17.Qd1 Nxg2+ 18.Ke2 Nf4+ 19.Ke1 Nd3+ 20.Ke2 Qc4 and Black’s attack just doesn’t seem to let up.; A more reasonable possibility, along with the text move, was 11.Nc3 Nd3+ 12.Bxd3 Qxd3 13.Qb3+ Be6 14.Qxb5 although the black bishop pair would provide ample compensation even after the queens are swapped.

11…Bb4+ 12.Nc3 Bxc3+ 13.bxc3 Qxc3+ 14.Bd2 Nxd3+ 15.Kf1

15.Ke2 Nf4+ 16.Bxf4 exf4 17.Bxa8 Be6 clearly favors Black.

15…Qc4 16.Qe2? A serious mistake. White had to play 16.Qb3 to get the queens off. There are various ways for Black to proceed, but I can’t see a fully satisfactory continuation.

In fact White should win after 16. Qb3!.  This was the key moment.  If Altounian had won the game, he would have been in great shape to make a GM norm.  As it happened, the victor in this game did make a norm!  Such is chess.

16…Rd8!! after16...rd8.jpg Absolutely brilliant!

17.Bxa8 Bf5 18.Bb7 18.Bf3 e4 19.Bg4 Bxg4 20.Qxg4 Ne5+ 21.Qe2 Rxd2 wins for Black.

18…Qd4 19.Rd1 Nb2!? 19…Nf4 20.Qe3 Qc4+ 21.Kg1 Ne2+ 22.Kf1 Nf4+ was enough for a draw, but Rogelio was after the jackpot.

20.Qh5+ Ke6 21.Ke1?? Levon could keep on fighting after 21.Rc1 Qxd2 22.Rc6+ Rd6 23.h3

21…Nd3+ White gets mated on the next move.

0-1 A very sad finish for Levon.  This was a tough tournament with a fast time control and many strong opponents.

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2 Responses to “The Fabulous 00s: The Resurgence of the 1890s”

  1. Michael Goeller Says:

    I wrote about this online, where I provide a summary of Stellwagen’s article in SOS #9 about this variation. I agree with you that 8…Ng4 is the way to go and very tough to analyze to any sort of clarity.

    As a “twin” I included in this article the related crazy 2 Knights encounter Altounian-Barcenilla, Copper State International Mesa 2009 (see Rensch’s report in Chess Life Online). Not the same line, but thematically related with a Bd3 retreat.

  2. 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 White Repertoire Webliography | The Kenilworthian Says:

    […] Behold, Once Again, the Two Knights! by Mark Ginsburg Excellent commentary on Nakamura – Friedel with improvements for Black. […]

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